Monday, December 21, 2020

Maybe, sometimes, comics will keep your heart going

I'm not on Facebook as much these days. That, combined with Facebook's truly messed up algorithm, means I didn't find out that Jason Conway died on December 17 until today. Which meant I spent most of this morning absolutely floored. 

For many people in St. John's they knew him as the guy who ran Downtown Comics. My first encounter with Jason was in high school. Jason and I didn't run in the same crowds. I didn't have many friends my first couple of years at Booth and Jason tended to run with the recreational pharmaceutical crowd. But we did share one class together....Grade 11 math.

For dignity's sake, I won't name the teacher. Sometimes you get the teacher that inspires you to be better. Sometimes you get teachers that are meh. And sometimes you get one's who are clearly only doing this for the summer's off and punching the clock until retirement. Welcome to my Grade 11 math class.

It should have been intolerable. He was actively bad at teaching math. But several times a week, this slow, drawing voice would call out from the back of the class...."Sir, should x=3 and not 7?" Or, "Sir, doesn't 50 plus 33 equal 83 and not 88?"

The teacher hated Jason. The rest of the class found it hilarious and we were grateful for the break. Honestly, Jason could have taught that class and I would bet solid money my grade would have been better.

Somehow, through that, Jason and I discovered we were both huge comic book geeks. This was the late 80s so right around when Timemasters opened. And thank God, because the only other place in town to buy new comics was from a bookstore out on Topsail Road run by a real piece of work. But we talked comics, and I sometimes bought books from him because he had an amazing collection. (He grumbled for years about selling me Iron Fist #14, which featured the first appearance of Sabretooth, and Iron Man #55, which featured the first appearance of Thanos).

And that's how it went for a few years...running into each other on and off. Eventually, we also both had the same bright idea....that people would sometimes dump really valuable comics at used bookstores around town (this was when the 90s comic speculator market was insane). Someone would dump a Spawn #1 at Afterwards on Duckworth Street and get a dime for it. Afterwards would sell it for 50 cents (45 cents for me and my student discount card), and then you could go into the Avalon Mall flea market and sell the same comic for $5 or $10.

This was a good racket. We decided to pool resources and share a few tables at the Avalon Mall flea market and for 2-3 years we were in there most Sundays selling comics. We called ourselves Mercs, for our mercenary habit of hunting comics at used bookstores. I had a lot of fun weekends at that flea market. Jason had a dry, laconic sense of humour, and was insanely knowledgeable about comics.

In '96, with the comic book speculator market crashing and me wanting to try and do something to jump start my life, I went to South Korea to teach English. When I came back 9 months later, Jason had opened Downtown Comics in the basement of a building next to Fred's Record's on Duckworth Street. Of the two of us, he made the better choice by far. Although no one saw it that way at the time. Timemasters was just down the road and ruled the roost for comics in town. But Jason saw an opportunity and went for it.

I bought my comics from him until 2005 when Cathy and I moved to Nunavut. But every time I was in town I dropped in to see how he was doing, if he was around, and buy something.

I don't think it's a secret that Jason had mental health issues. And comics can be hard on you. One of the most famous artists in the business, Jack Kirby, is once alleged to have given the following advice to an artist -  "Don't do comics, kid. Comics will break your heart."

Running a comic book store is not an easy gig. There's competition from others stores. The market changes all the time. Back issues used to be huge, but trade paperbacks and digital did a number on that. You're competing with big chains when it comes to toys. And I can't imagine what it was like keeping things going this pandemic year. There was a couple of months this year when major publishers simply didn't put out anything for stores' like Jason's to sell. Keeping that store opened for 23 years was a goddamn miracle.

And yet, the outpouring of grief on the Downtown Comics Facebook page is immense. Hundreds of people expressing sympathy to his daughter and to Wallace Ryan, who has been helping Jason at the store for years now. Many are sharing stories about how Jason sold them their first comic or helped shape their lives by his love of comics.

My first comic book was at a drug store at the Avalon Mall. But for 23 years, kids have walked into that store and that's been their first comic book experience. It must have been overwhelming, seeing so many comics, so many toys and all their heroes in one place. I bet more than one kid was dragged out of there by parents before they had to buy the whole store.

I don't think you do that gig for 23 years just to make a living. There are easier ways of doing things. Sometimes, comics will break your heart, but you keep on loving it anyway. And maybe it loves you back in ways you never expect.

Rest in peace, my friend....


Monday, May 18, 2020

Comic Art Collection 12: Champions

Champions #25, page 23. Art by Max Dunbar.

So, let's keep it rolling, shall we?

The page above is from an issue of Champions and, among other characters, features Amak Aliyah who is an Inuk super hero called Snowguard. The reason I'm writing about it now is there was a little social media blip about her recently, courtesy of this tweet:

Anna Lambe is a promising young actress who starred in the made-in-Nunavut movie The Grizzlies and a lot of people think would be a good fit for the new Avatar, the Last Airbender series that is gearing up on Netflix. I don't know much about that franchise, so I can't say one way or another if she would be. But she would make a great Snowguard. I'm not the only one who thinks so, based on the number of reactions that tweet got. Including from Snowguard's creators Jim Zub, Nyla Innuksuk, and Sean Iszaake.

However, up until recently I would have said the odds of Snowguard making the leap from pages to the screen was small. She is still a new character with maybe 2 dozen appearances. But Simu Liu was politely teasing Marvel about casting him as Shang Chi, which they then did. Plus, Disney/Marvel clearly have plans for their younger heroes on the Disney+ streaming service. There's a Ms. Marvel show debuting next year and rumours exploded a couple of weeks ago that there's an Ironheart show in the work on the service. That's a chunk of the Champions team right there. So who knows? Maybe she gets a call from Marvel. I certainly hope so.

As for this page, ever since Snowguard debuted I'd been looking to get a page of art with her on it. Just one problem. A lot of the artists on the book during that first year were working digitally. I would have bought a page from her first story arc, but Sean is a digital artist. There was an annual featuring Snowguard returning to Pangnirtung by Toronto artist Marcus To. Except he also switched from pencil to digital a few years ago.

However, last year (or possibly 10 years ago. Time is fluid) when I was at Emerald City Comic Con I got the chance to meet Jim Zub and get a bunch of books signed, including a over a dozen copies of the Champions annual signed and personalized for Cathy's Grade 5 class that year (I just found out via Twitter it's also Jim's birthday today, so this is good timing. And Happy Birthday). Sitting next to him was BC-based artist Max Dunbar. Jim and Max share a massive love of all things Dungeons & Dragons and the previous year there was a Champions story arc where the characters get thrown into an alternate dimension (it happens) where they also change personalities and become people who closely resemble the type of characters you might play in Dungeons & Dragons.

It's a fun story arc, but what caught my eye was Max Dunbar. It was the kind of art that makes you wonder who the hell is this guy and where did he come from. Great detail, lots of energy, not afraid of big, complex action sequences and putting ridiculous effort into splash pages. I knew he was going to be at the con, and that he would have pages for sale. It took me all of about 30 seconds to settle on this page. Amak with a big ass hammer, a cool looking Ms. was a no brainer.

I don't pretend to know Max well, but he appears very generous with his art. I remember he gifted Jim with a stunning two-page spread from that Champions run. He recently gave away a stunning piece of Marvel mash-up art....all you had to do was prove you donated to a charity or that you were a first responder for a chance to enter the contest. 

Seriously, just look at this thing....

He quoted me a price for that page that was more than fair, and then added "But if you think that's too much, I can come down a bit." Jim and his partner Stacy were at the table next to him. I swear one of them was going to go over and shake him before I said "I don't haggle with artists. That's a great price."

I actually own another piece of Max's art, but that's for another day. That Champions page currently is hanging near my cubicle at work.

Last Five
1. Meeting in the aisle - Radiohead
2. Blue skies over bad lands - Matthew Good
3. While we were hunting rabbits - Matthew Good*
4. Restless - Alison Krauss and Union Station
5. My time is coming - The Hives

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Bubbles within bubbles

Two months ago today Cathy and I were just starting to walk to work because our car was not behaving and couldn't be trusted. I felt my work phone buzz and was told my manager to turn around, head home and send a message out to all the staff. The office was now closed. All staff were to work from home.

There have been two things I've tried not to keep track of over the last couple of months. The first, oddly enough, is how long the self-quarantine has been going on, but it kind of leaped out at me a couple of days ago. But as a rule, I haven't been paying attention. I don't think it'll do my head any good.

The other is the death toll and infection rates. Again, I don't think it does my head any good to dwell on those numbers. Also, I don't think they accurately reflect the reality. I think the infection rates, especially in the United States, are grossly underreported. The same with death rates. And as I've read, the other effects of the disease is also underreported and terrifying.

It's a fine line to walk between being informed enough to protect yourself and not wanting to curl up in a ball in your closet for the next two years. For the most part, I think Cathy and I have managed. So, what's been happening the last two months?

1. Still zero cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut. We had one scare a few weeks back, but it was a false positive. The Government of Nunavut is going to roll out it's plan to reduce self-isolation rules next week, which should be fascinating. I titled this post 'Bubbles within bubbles" because that's where Cathy and I are. Canada is a bubble (except for Quebec) when compared to the madness that is the US. Nunavut is in the fortunate position of having no cases. In Iqaluit, social distancing has best. Downtown Iqaluit....not so much, except at places where it's enforced like stores or the post office. But we live away from downtown, so other than people walking their dogs, we hardly see anyone.

We've been sticking to our house pretty closely. Once a week, maybe twice, I'll head out and get groceries and pick up the mail. That's about it.

2. Like everyone, there have been scrapping of plans. I had planned to take a couple of months off this summer and travel. That plan has absolutely been scrapped. The fallback was that we would go out for two weeks, do a sealift and maybe get back to Newfoundland and see some family. That plan is about 95% scrapped as well.

I've been saying that anyone who thinks they can predict what's going to happen over the next two years is basically writing fan fiction. No one knows what's going to happen next. There's too many balls in the air. I've been mentally bracing myself for things getting back to a semblance of safe ("normal" is something else entirely) in 2022. But I absolutely will not be surprised if Nunavut keeps its quarantine rules in place indefinitely, meaning you can certainly leave, but you have to self-isolate for two weeks in Ottawa or other centres first.

Why would they lift it? They know the effect COVID-19 will have on Nunavut communities. They got phenomenally lucky that no cases came in before they restricted travel. The territory is being resupplied with only some hiccups. I'm sure some might grumble about not being able to travel back and forth with ease, but welcome to the new reality. Nothing is easy.

I'm also not blowing two weeks vacation so I can sit in a hotel room in Ottawa. So yeah, I think we're going to be in Iqaluit for quite awhile.

3. I'm continuing to work, which is good. Work is not discussed on this blog, but it keeps me busy for several hours a day, which is good. Cathy has done as much as she can with the school at this point. It's cancelled until September. So she's trying to keep busy as best she can.

Honestly, we're well built mentally to handle this kind of thing. We don't have kids (cranky old dogs don't count), we're introverts and we genuinely like each other's company. We wouldn't want to do this for years, but we haven't been fighting or snapping at each other over the last couple of months. We're handling it well.

We had a small bit of drama the week when a culvert got blocked up on the street behind our house. The water found an alternative route that involved coming down the hill and pouring down under our house.  It's Iqaluit, so the house is on pylons. But it was washing out our driveway and making a mess of things. So we had an hour or so of fun trying to find ways to divert the water around our house while waiting for city council workers to deal with the situation.

That's literally been the most excitement we've had the last two months.

4. If there's been one source of stress it's been our car. Our good and faithful Equinox, which we've had for nine years, had a very bad start to this year, making some weird noses. This was attributed to the block heater not working, which we overpaid for and replaced at garage #1. After that the car was still having problems and no longer trusting Garage #1, we made an appointment at Garage #2, which we had to wait two weeks for.

Then the pandemic hit, so the parts they needed took a month to get here.

When we finally got her back on Tuesday, and after spending another couple of thousand dollars, we found out that basically the engine had been significantly damaged and was going to stop working.....soonish. Could be a couple of weeks, could be a year. But it was coming. The car also acquired a delightful rattle, meaning that even if I wanted to be an unethical dick and sell it, she makes so much noise that no one in their right mind would buy it. It's basically good for parts at this point.

Which means a new car.

We had planned to get a new one next year. We really wanted one more year for the Equinox. Fortunately, as we're not travelling anywhere, all that money we had budgeted for vacation can now go towards the car! Yay!


The mildly frustrating thing is that I was looking forward to properly shopping for a new car. I've never really done it before. I've had used cars, and one on a lease. Cathy bought one 20 years ago which involved walking onto a dealership lot and saying "give me that one." So yeah, I wanted to hit a few dealerships. Test drive a few cars. See what the best deal was going to be.

Instead, we contacted Subaru and said "give us that one" and we now have a new Subaru CrossTrek en route to us. The dealership dropped it off to our shipping company last week. They'll transport it to Montreal. And assuming all goes well, sometime in mid-July we should have our new car.

Mildly anti-climatic. Here's hoping she works out because ideally we'd like her to last until we leave in about 10 years time. Guess we'll see.

And that's it. Tune in next month for another update.

Last Five
1. Elephant (live) - Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit*
2. Picadilly sand farewell - Ron Hynes
3. Songs for teenagers - Gaslight Anthem
4. Spark man - Mark Bragg
5. In California (live) - Neko Case

Thursday, April 23, 2020

On a slightly weird week....

So, that got a little weird in a hurry.

By now most of you know that mom celebrated working 40 years at Shoppers Drug Mart last Saturday. That's because, in a first for this blog, the post went viral.

How viral? Well, let's put it in some perspective. The previous three posts had the following amount of traffic.

Comic Art Collection: Thor - 45 clicks.
Comic Art Collection: Supergirl and Batgirl - 46 clicks
Settling in (how things are going up here) - 93 clicks

The top picture is from opening day 1980 with her former
boss John. The bottom two are from 2019.
The post on mom's anniversary? - 10,250 clicks. And it's still climbing, although at a much slower rate. There were 8,000 page view on Sunday alone.

The previous best for the past three years was my last update to the Moving to Iqaluit FAQ back in 2017 (which reminds me, I need to do that again), and it had 4,061.

But the numbers for all of this are astounding. Yes, my blog experienced a massive spike in traffic, but that's only part of it. NTV reporter Jodi Cooke put out a congratulatory tweet on April 18. It has 28 retweets, 73 comments, and 642 likes. Then I got an email from CBC's Krissy Holmes asking if we'd like to appear on the Morning Show. I think mom was a bit nervous, but it was fun. All I had to do was  remember I was the sidekick and let mom do her thing, which she always does.

You can listen to the whole thing here. Or read the story here.

And how was the reaction to the CBC story? The story was shared 84 times, with over 1,300 likes and 234 people commented on it.

Two sitting MPs extending congrats to her. And after the story she told about Danny Williams' mom I'm half surprised a new car hasn't shown up in her driveway.

On top of that mom said she's had a lot of people wave at her at Shoppers and congratulate her on her anniversary. She's threaten to put me up for adoption because of all the attention, which is a nice blast from the past....she hasn't threatened me with that since I was 16. But she loves it. I know she does.

But here's the thing that truly blows my mind. I haven't read all the comments and tweets, but I've read a lot of them. Nobody said anything bad.

Not one snarky comment. No one from PETA coming out of the woodwork and bashing the cosmetics industry. No one with a "bad" customer experience coming to correct everyone. Everything was positive. They congratulated her. They told happy stories about their interaction with mom.  They talked about what an important part of their lives she's been over the years (One 53-year-old woman said she's been buying make-up from mom since she was 15). They said how much they loved her.

If you bring a wee dog into the
store, mom has to say hi.
I'm not one to idly throw around the word "miraculous" but in this day of instant outrage and anger on social media, this is as close to one as you will find.

But it's mom....I am utterly unsurprised.

But the nice thing isn't just the numbers and the outpouring of's that mom can get to see it all. It occurred to me that this kind of thing often happens....after the person is no longer around to hear it. Mom's going to be around for a long time yet, but it's nice that she can see all of this. It's one thing to know you're good at your job and for people to compliment you, but this kind of wave of adoration it is a rare thing. I really hope she's soaking it in and enjoying it.

And now, one last mom story. Because I'm kicking myself for not putting it in the original post, and because it's honestly hilarious to me.

It's not just that mom's been working at Shoppers for 40 years, she's also worked Christmas Eve for every single year she's been with Shoppers. Hell, from mid-November to Christmas she rarely takes a day off because it's so busy.

But my favourite thing about her working Christmas Eve is that every year, every year, there's a group of men who discover around 4 pm that it's Christmas (funny how that can just sneak up on you) and maybe they should buy something for their wives. I think the record for someone coming into the store was at 4:55 on Christmas Eve when they close at 5.

If you're a woman who lives in the East End and you've ever received a suspiciously nice bottle of perfume for Christmas....well, odds are your husband was at Shoppers 20 minutes before close the day before.

I know it amuses mom, although she never takes advantage of them or tries to oversell them. She tries to find out what their wife likes, and if she's ever shopped there before, and tries to find the best thing for them....all before the store closes in a few minutes.

I've said that mom should get an award for the number of marriages she's saved. Hell, she's probably prevented a few murders.

So there you go....the last Daphne story....for now.

Man, it's going to be hard to top this for Mother's Day next month....

Last Five
1. Heart to heart with Lionel - Joel Plaskett Emergency
2. Slow disco - St. Vincent
3. Battlefords - Hawksley Workman*
4. Making a noise - Robbie Robertson
5. Growin' up (live) - Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

Saturday, April 18, 2020

40 years at Shoppers

My record for longest stint at a job is the one I'm currently in. This June it will mark eight years. And if you throw in the 16 months I did earlier, went away, and then came back to the job, I have a little over nine years at this gig. It marks an almost unheard of level of job stability for me. Previously, I've tended to bounce around. I think if you ask most people my age or younger, the number of people who have spent decades at a job are relatively rare.

And even if you do spend a few decades at a job, you normally retire. Teachers tend to go at 30 years, for example.

Mom and I, Christmas 2012 at Shoppers.
Then there's my mom. Today marks her 40th anniversary working for Shoppers Drug Mart on Torbay Road. Hell, if you toss in her time at the Zellers that used to be in that mall, she's spent 45 years on that parking lot. If there was ever a demand for a history of the Torbay Road Mall, it begins and ends with my mom.

I have a vague recollection of mom starting at Shoppers. The store was opening in the mall (Zellers was on one end, Dominion on the other, in-between was a CIBC, Shoppers, a doctor's office, a Chinese restaurant, and several smaller stores) and it was a big deal. First one on the east end of town. She'd been working at Zellers for years and was excited about not just getting a new job, but also becoming head cosmetician. It was a big deal for her.

And it's still a big deal for her. Mom loves her job. Odds are you've never loved a job the way my mom loves hers. Lord knows she doesn't do it for the money. She just loves people. She loves helping people and chatting with them. I've spoken to mom more times than I can count at 11 pm after she's just finished an eight hours shift and she's fine. She normally hangs up to go and get her cup of coffee. And then she's back to work for a 10 am shift the next morning.

That's not something she did years ago. That's something she probably did this week.

Yeah, she's still working. I've asked her to stop working during the COVID-19 crisis, but she keeps going in. She's not selling make-up right now; she's just helping out around the store, trying to be useful. It makes me nervous as hell, but she keeps working. Because it's what she loves doing. Working and being helpful.

If you've walked into that Shoppers and talked to my mom, odds are you have a story about her. If you've talked to her for more than a few minutes, odds are you know something about me (I've long since given up asking her to not do that). She's sold makeup to news anchors, make-up artists on film/TV productions, and others. One of her absolutely favourite customers was Danny Williams' mom. She got a kick out of that and always took good care of her.

Then again, she always takes good care of everyone.

She's outlasted everyone in the store. The original owner retired years ago. I wouldn't place a bet against her outlasting the current owner. And the one after him. I'm not giving up here age here, but she shows no signs of retiring. I imagine I'll be updating this in 10 years time when we celebrate her 50th anniversary at the store.

My favourite mom story? This would have been around 2012. I was back in Newfoundland for Christmas and discovered, to my horror, that mom was working Christmas Day. I asked her why, as she obviously had the seniority to get that day off.

"Well, most of the rest of the cosmetics staff have young ones or young family and they should spend Christmas morning with them rather than being in here. And you're old enough to not need me there Christmas morning and I knew you'd understand. So that's why."

The photo above is from me going in that morning and spending an hour or so with her in the store, before she shooed me home out of it. Which has always been the way when I visit her at the store. She's happy to see me and chat, but if there's a customer who looks like they need help, she'll stop mid-conversation to go over and take care of them.

Odds are she's not celebrating this day the way she wanted. She's been looking forward to this day for a long time. It likely won't be the celebration she wanted, but I hope they do lots for her anyway. I've always thought Shoppers has never appreciated her the way she deserves.

For years, I've had some variant of this conversation:

"Well, I'm never sure how much longer I'll get to do this, Craig. I'm not sure how long they'll want someone my age in cosmetics."

"Mom, the number of women you bring into that store who want to know the secret of how you look so good at your age should mean you get to stay there forever."

And she does. Mom has consistently looked 10-15 younger than she actually is. She has, on occasion, passed me off as her younger brother. Which amuses her, and makes me roll my eyes, but whatever. It gives her a laugh.

And women do come in and ask her secret. And she's happy to sell them some moisturizer she uses, or some other products. And they go away happy. But she never tells them the real reason why she looks so young.

Just love what you do for 40 years and be a kind and amazing person. Works every time.

Happy 40 years, mom. Here's to at least another 10.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Comic Art Collection 11 - Thor

Thor by Walt Simonson, 9 x 12

I can still remember how excited I was to get this sketch. It was at New York Comic Con in 2008, which as I've said before was my first con. Most of those days were kind of stumbling around Artist Alley getting random sketches from artists. I was perfectly happy doing that. But at some point I made my way to the Hero Initiative booth and realized that Walt Simonson was going to do a commission session.

From one of the best issues in
Simonson's run on the series
So, two things. First, for those of you who don't know, Walt Simonson is one of the legends of the comic book industry. His run on Thor in the 1980s is cited by pretty much everyone as one of the greatest and most important runs on the character. I'm not saying he saved the character for Marvel, but no one has been particularly excited by him in quite some time. Then Simonson came on board, doing both story and art, and everything changed. There was energy, dynamic storytelling, beautiful sound effects (Simonson is a master at cool looking sound effects in comics) and more. There's always so much energy on a Simonson page, even when it's characters talking. It just feels like something big is about to happen, just as soon as you turn the page.

Second, he was doing this for Hero Initiative, an amazing organization that should not need to exist. Who are they? Well, this is straight from their website:

The Hero Initiative creates a financial safety net for comic creators who may need emergency medical aid, financial support for essentials of life, and an avenue back into paying work. Since inception, the Hero Initiative has been fortunate enough to benefit creators with more than $1 million worth of much-needed aid, fueled by your contributions! It’s a chance for all of us to give back something to the people who have given us so much enjoyment.

It's one of the most aggravating things about the comic industry. Creators who have worked for decades, who have created characters or storylines that have made movie studios millions, often are left struggling. Especially as they near retirement age and comic book companies become less interested in their work. Or that many creators still working can get into trouble so quickly if they have the slightest personal or health emergency.

I fear Hero Initiative is going to be overwhelmed in the coming months.

Anyway, in this case I saw that Simonson was going to be doing sketches for the organization. In over two hours.

You have to make that call sometimes at comic cons. I want this thing, but I'm going to have to line up for hours, and how much other cool things could I do during that time? In this case, it was a pretty simple call. I got in line. I was #2. By the time Simonson started sketching, there were about 30-40 people in line, which meant most were going to be disappointed.

I was nervous because I figured everyone was going to ask for Thor and you can never be 100% sure how an artist will react to being asked to draw the same character over and over again. Fortunately, the guy in front of me wanted Batman. So I was the first person to ask for, and get, Thor.

That sketch took about 20 minutes or so. I happily paid my money to Hero Initiative. I got a great sketch from a legend comic artist and I helped to support a great cause. I've done it several more times since. If Hero Initiative is at a comic con, I always go there, sometimes multiple times, and get a sketch.

I'm not saying this is the sketch that got me hooked on collecting comic art, but it might have been the one to seal the deal. I'd had a blast wandering around Artist Alley that con, getting fun stuff. But the notion I could get something from an artist of Simonson's stature....that this was a thing that I could do....that was probably the final nail in the coffin.

You can read all of Simonson's Thor issues via Comixology or if you want the Omnibus is still available. It is pricy, however, going for around $150.

Last Five
1. We don't deserve love - Arcade Fire
2. Helpless - k.d. lang*
3. Conversation piece - Kings of Leon
4. Selkie - Tori Amos
5. The skies will break - Corinne Bailey Rae

Monday, March 30, 2020

Comic Art Collection 10: Supergirl and Batgirl

Supergirl and Batgirl by Mike Maihack. 9x12
Top: Original pencil and ink
Bottom: Digitally coloured print

Sometimes, publishers hate making money. Case in point - Mike Maihack.

I'm pretty sure I came across Mike's artwork via Tumblr. And it was probably one of his delightful  Supergirl and Batgirl strips. He does these strips infrequently, sometimes only once a year, but they're always fantastic when he does. The strips are basically an exasperated Batgirl trying to deal with her best friend, a very high energy Supergirl. Through good luck, he put one out this week dealing with our twin heroes being stuck in doors while "Joker Gas" is endangering Gotham City residents. It's showed up a lot in my social media feeds by friends of mine who like knitting.

There's a lot more examples on his website, where you can buy prints.

The most recent Supergirl/Batgirl
They're so much fun that it's genuinely baffling to me that DC never came to him and said "Hey, how would you like to do do a 100 page graphic novel based on their adventures?" I would buy it in a heartbeat and given the speed at which these comics spread online, so would a lot of others.

Part of the reason this might not have happened is that Mike's been busy the last seven or eight years with his Cleopatra in Space graphic novel series through Scholastic. It's the story of the Cleopatra who as a kid accidentally gets tossed across time and space and finds herself in the far future. She also discovers that she's a prophesied saviour of the galaxy. And if that's not bad enough she still has to go to school, and most of the professors are cats. It's a huge amount of fun.

 Cathy has a set of the books in her classroom and it's perfect for elementary school kids. Or, you know, big kids like me.

As for the piece above, I believe it came about when Mike put out a call that he was taking commissions and I quickly jumped at it. This was the first piece of art I bought from Mike, but not the last. I have at least three others which will make their debuts at some point in the coming months. 

And one day I hope to meet him at a con. I'd like to be able to thank him in person for how much enjoyment I get out of his work. And, you know, maybe get him to draw something in my sketchbook.

But what I like about this is he through in the digitally coloured print for free. I just thought I was getting pencil and ink sketch, so the print was nice. They're also framed side by side so when you look at them you can really see the difference colour makes to the art.
The last Cleo book (boooo) coming out
in late July/early August,
As for why I like Mike's art so much, it's just fun. It's been interesting watching him grow as a visual storyteller in Cleo. There's a huge difference between the first book and the fifth. He's much more confident, polished and willing to try bigger and more complex scenes and action pieces. I look forward to reading his stuff for some time to come.

And DC? The last Cleopatra in Space book is coming out this summer. It's not too late to throw some money at Mike to get him to do a Supergirl/Batgirl book. Just sayin'....

Last Five
1. Bones of ribbon - London Grammar
2. Desire - Ryan Adams*
3. Snow angel - Ron Sexsmith
4. Execution day - The New Pornographers
5. Hard to tell - Young Galaxy

Friday, March 27, 2020

Settling in

Proof of life, March 27, 2020
So, somehow, I now seem to live in one of the safest places on Earth.

That might be the scariest sentence I've typed in my life. I'm just superstitious enough to wonder if I haven't just jinxed things up here. If you think that's nuts, and things don't work like that, keep in mind that no one who uses Twitter in Iqaluit will say the name of the world's largest company for fear that they will stop shipping for free up here.

So no cases so far. There's still a bit of a backlog of tests, so we still might get something jumping out at us. But right now we're ok. And this week, the territorial government brought in some of the strictest travel rules in Canada about who is and isn't allowed into the territory. You want in? You have to:

- Be a Nunavut resident. If you want to come here, you need to have an address here.
- Be a critical care worker.
- Sit in quarantine for two weeks at  government monitor buildings in Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Yellowknife.

And that's it. You can't drive here and, for at least another three months, you can't sail here. Those rules kicked in on the 24th, so theoretically by April 8 (give or take a few days) and if there are no cases, we might be in good shape.

There's any number of reasons to hope it never comes here. This Politico story touches on some of them. If/when it gets here, it could rip through some of the smaller communities and do severe harm. Or, for that matter, Iqaluit. We're around 8,500 people these days. Politicians and the health officer are begging people to go home and practicing social distancing. But with no cases here, I think compliance is half-hearted at best. One of our neighbours has a hockey rink built by the side of his house and we've walked past with 10 kids playing together in close quarters.

Today was my weekly trip out of the neighbourhood to do a mail run and pick up some groceries. Cases or not, we take it seriously. I get the mail, get groceries, come home and then toss everything I'm wearing in the washer and get a shower. And it's just a little weird out in town. It's quieter. The flashes of friendliness between residents seems rarer and when you do see them it makes you worry if they're being careful enough.

Weird days.

As for Cathy and I, we've settled into our routines in the house. This was always going to be easier for us than many others. The lack of kids, for one thing. Plus, we're used to spending a lot of time with each other anyway. Before all of this most of our days consisted of going to work, coming home, having supper and hanging out together (reading, watching tv, playing games, talking).  It's not that hard a shift for us. I tend to be busiest at work in the morning so Cathy gives me a little more space.

I find I'm writing more, which is nice. I read an actual, honest to god, book this week. You know, the kind without art in it. It was Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey, in case you're wondering. A pretty solid Potter-noir story, where a Muggle PI investigates a murder at Hogwarts, er, Osthorne Academy. The mystery was a bit too easy to solve, but the characters are fun and the world building is pretty good.

So we're good. We're in a safe place, being careful, and still have our jobs. NorthMart was fully stocked when I went out today, so groceries are no problem at the moment. And honestly, the next 6 weeks are the best time of the year to live in Iqaluit. The temperatures warm up, so that's it's cold, but more than manageable. The daylight is normal - not too much or too little. The light on the bay when the sun is out is not easily described or captured by camera, but "magical" is about right. And at night you can still catch the Northern Lights.

And right now, that's all I need. It's more than enough.

Last Five
1. Ms. Behave - Rosie and the Riveters*
2. Paradise by the 'C' (Live) - Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
3. We both go down together (Live) - The Decemberists
4. Little shadow - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
5. Throw your arms around me (Live) - Crowded House

Monday, March 23, 2020

Comic Art Collection 9: Hellboy and Mermaid

Hellboy and mermaid by Ben Templesmith, 8.5x11

Social media is eventually going to bankrupt me, I'm sure.

Once upon a time, if you wanted comic book art you had to go to conventions, or maybe find a store that sold a few pages. Or perhaps write to the artist and beg for a page. Comic book art, famously, for many decades, wasn't worth squat. There are terrifying stories about pages being thrown out, drawn over, or used for colour practice.

Now, it's really easy to find comic art if you want. Artist websites, eBay, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and more. (Comic Art Tracker is currently the most dangerous tab open on my browser). In fact, in our days of global pandemic, a lot of artists are hurting. In comics, many of them count on comic cons to make extra money, or look for more work. Major publishers haven't started scaling back....yet. But I wouldn't be surprised if that happens. If you like art...or comic art, poke around and see if there's something you can buy. A few prints or stickers can help sometimes.

Anyway, this lovely Hellboy came about because I was on Twitter at the right time.

A page from Fell, issue #2
Ben Templesmith got his big break illustrating a book with Steve Niles called 30 Days of Night. It's a vampire story set in the remote community of Barrows, Alaska which gets attacked by vampires during the 30 days of the year when there's no sun. It was later adapted into a movie. It's a concept so genius that I'm convinced half the comic book writers and artists in the world smacked their heads off desks in frustration for not thinking of the idea first.

I liked his artwork, but I'm not the biggest horror fan. But Templesmith did a book called Fell with Warren Ellis. It was a wonderfully creepy book about Detective Richard Fell, who is transferred to a failed city called Snowton. It's smartly written, atmospheric as hell, and frustratingly incomplete. Delays meant the story wasn't finished. The last issue came out in 2008, so barring a miracle, it will probably never be completed.

But I was following Templesmith on Twitter back in 2011, at least partially to see what he would do next, and hoping that the next thing would be more Fell. Instead, one day in December he popped online and said he was taking a handful of commissions so he could buy some Christmas gifts. His commission list was open a grand total of 30 minutes before he closed it due to all the interest.

Guess who was on Twitter during that 30 minute window.

Hellboy: The Third Wish #2
I can't really recall where the idea of getting him to draw Hellboy came from, but it was a bloody genius one. He draws a near perfect Hellboy, so good I'm astonished he's never been asked to draw the book. The idea of a mermaid came from a Hellboy story I had read a few months earlier where he gets trapped in the ocean and has to deal with three mermaid sisters (It's Hellboy. It happens).

When I mentioned the idea to Templesmith via email he loved the idea, but was baffled by one of my conditions. I told him the mermaid couldn't be naked. Which meant explaining Cathy's "No nudity, no graphic violence" rule for art. He was amused, but had no problem with it.

What he sent to me has long been one of my favourite comic book pieces. The weary resignation of Hellboy, who appears to be utterly unsurprised to be underwater. Not sure what good the gun is going to do, but it's a fun touch. And I love the mermaid wrapped around him in that way is a clever way around the no nudity rule. It's also...nicer. I like the intimacy of it. I like it more than if he was fighting the mermaid. The angry fish swimming by are a little detail I love too.

This also has the rare privilege of being one of the pieces on my wall that Cathy really likes. She often doesn't get why I like something or occasionally shakes her head at a piece. But she loves this one. It makes her smile.

Last Five
1. Hi-Rise - The New Pornographers
2. The trip to Pirate's Cove - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
3. Happy pills - Norah Jones
4. Futurism - Deerhunter
5. Battery Kinzie - Fleet Foxes*

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Nunavut update

I've had a few people ask how we're doing in Iqaluit. The answer, like for most of us, is so far, so good.

The three territories remains - and I feel like I should knock on every piece of wooden furniture in the house and then go outside, turn around three times and spit - free of any reported cases of COVID-19. Nunavut ramped things up in a serious way today, which is good to see. I should also note that it may already be here. COVID-19 testing in the Nunavut has been slow so far.

Nunavut might get either very lucky, or very, very unlucky in all of this. It's winter so there are no boats coming in. Only four major airports service the territory - Yellowknife, Winnipeg, Ottawa and Montreal (The mine sites are a whole other thing that I'm not knowledgable enough to get into). With some precautions and travel becoming more restricted, maybe the territory can dodge the worst of it.

Because if we get unlucky and it lands here in a big way, well, I'm trying to think positive thoughts these days. But it won't be good. You're already seeing some communities telling people not to visit or come back. Some are packing up and going out on the land to winter camps or cabins, rather than staying in town.

As for Cathy and I....the schools all closed as of Monday, so Cathy is rattling around the house. She's making lists of things to do, which is good. She needs to keep herself occupied. Sitting on the couch all day isn't her thing. And given her asthma we're trying very hard to be careful.

I'm working from home, so I've got things to keep me busy.

We also finally could take a breath because both our fathers finally got their asses out of Florida and back into Canada (Cathy's dad caught a flight. My dad is driving back and crossed the boarder this evening). They will now get to enjoy self-quarantine for the next couple of weeks. But as I suspect Florida is going to resemble a Mad Max movie in a month's time, I think the minor annoyance is better than the alternative.

Courtesy of the sealift and my recent trip to Ottawa in early February, we're about as well supplied as you can get. So there will be no mad dashes for Lysol wipes or toilet paper. The toilet paper thing is beyond bizarre. And no kidding, now is absolutely the time you should buy a bidet. They're more hygienic and better for the environment.

But yeah, we're pretty well set. Canned items we're good for months. What's in the freezer will probably keep us until mid-May. We figure that once a week, during a quiet time of the day, I'll either walk or cab downtown to get our mail and pick up any groceries. Supplies are still coming in fine, so that's good.

It's also nice that there is a culture of sharing in Nunavut, especially during difficult times. So hopefully means we won't see some of the binge shopping and hording that's happened elsewhere.

I mentioned walking or taking a taxi. About that....our car has been struggling all winter. At first I blamed a faulty block heater and an incompetent garage. But we took her to a new garage last Friday. On Saturday, when taking her out for a test run, they could barely get her back to the shop. So she's down for the count until they can get parts in.

The parts they need come from the United States. Yeah. So we'll see when she's up and running again. Might be in a couple of weeks. Might be a couple of months.

Over all, we're in good shape. Through a bit of geographic luck, we don't have any cases so far and we're well stocked for awhile. Our incomes are secure and there is no imminent financial worries (probably best not to think about our retirement plans). Our vacation plans for this summer are probably thermo nuked, but really, it's three months away. I'm not even thinking about it seriously for awhile yet. And even if they are toast....there are bigger worries in the world.

I'll probably do weekly updates. I suspect I'll be doing a lot more writing on the blog in the coming weeks. Nothing like a global pandemic to break some writer's block.

Take care, stay safe....and keep in touch. I think a lot of us are going to be very isolated in the coming weeks. A few minutes checking in with someone either by text, email or....gasp...a phone call, might make all the difference. Any of my friends or family who want to give me a shout, please do so. And I'll try and be a better friend and keep in touch.

Last Five
1. Our House - Madness
2. The reason why - Ron Sexsmith
3. Na na song - Colleen Power*
4. Los Ageless - St. Vincent
5. Rise up with fists! - Jenny Lewis

Monday, March 16, 2020

Comic Art Collection 8: Amelia Rules

Cover to Amelia Rules: True Things (Adults Don't Want Kids to Know) by Jimmy Gownley, 11 x 14

(Yes, I know things are bad out there, but allow me the distraction to write about something that makes me happy.)

It's not an exact science, but there's a pecking order to how expensive a page of comic art will go for. Interior pages with no major characters and lots of panels tend to be the cheapest. Pages where major heroes appear and fight scenes are further up the pecking ladder. Dramatic splash pages can get big bucks.

At the top of that pecking order tends to be covers. It's not exact, but covers to even obscure indy comics can go for hundreds. Covers for a Marvel/DC comic go for over $1,000. Covers by a recognized name artist on one of those books can go for over $2,000. And the major artists, can get $5,000 or more. For example, this Supergirl cover by Amanda Conner, which I adore, is a little out of my budget range.

I own three covers. To reassure Cathy none of them come close to $1,000, let alone what the higher end ones go for.

(I showed Cathy an auction the other day for a Bill Sienkiewicz cover from his New Mutants issues, one of my all-time favourite comic runs. It was at $16,000 with two days left. I have no doubt it went for north of $20,000. I thought she was going to have a stroke when I jokingly asked if I could get it.)

I'm pretty sure this is the first cover I bought. Amelia Rules is one of those comics I bizarrely fell in love with even though I am clearly not the target demographic. I think I first found the comic in a Free Comic Book Day issue I picked up when I hit a comic book store during a trip to Edmonton in  2004.

I was blown away with just how great the book was. It had the rare ability to be funny to both kids and adults. But at the same time writer/artist Jimmy Gownley was also touching on some topics that would resonate with kids. The lead character is Amelia McBride, whose parents have recently divorced. She and her mom have moved from New York to rural Pennsylvania to live with her aunt, who used to be a semi-famous pop star (Gownley based "Aunt Tanner" on Liz Phair) before she quit the music business under mysterious circumstances.

The books deal with the fallout of the divorce, trying to make new friends, dealing with school, handling scary moments (one of her friend's dad serves overseas and gets injured), and being occasionally too smart or clever for her own good (she's quick, which means she sometimes says cutting things she regrets later. I can empathize). They're also hilarious.

For years I recommended the books to everyone. Cathy has a complete set in her classroom. This page is one of several pieces I have from the series, including a sketch from meeting Gownley at NYCC in 2008. This page was acquired simply by emailing him, gushing over how much I loved the book and asking if he had any pages for sale. This cover was one of the options, which I snapped up.

There's actually one last curious thing about the cover. Here's how it looks in colour when it was published.

You may notice that some characters were removed, and at least one was shifted. I'm guessing they wanted more of the focus on Amelia and for the background to be a little less busy. Either way, I have a pretty cool cover, to a great book. It's one of the centrepieces on my wall.

Last Five
1. Bleeding heart - Regina Spektor
2. Through the morning, through the night - Robert Plant and Allison Krauss*
3. Believe reprise - Sloan
4. New Scotland blues - Joel Plaskett
5. Keep your heart - TV on the Radio

Monday, March 09, 2020

Comic Art Collection 7: The Exhilarating Emeralda

The Exhilarating Emeralda by Ryan Fisher from the Monsters and Dames
book, 11 x 17
While I've been to five major comic cons, they've only been in two cities - New York and Seattle. New York Comic Con is a....thing. It's expanded massively since my first one in 2008. Back then, about 85,000 attended over three and a half days. In 2021, when renovations are finished at the Javtis Center I won't be surprised if that surges past 200,000. Its focus can be as much on celebrities, video games and tv/movies as it is on comics. But it's still one of the major events on the comic con calendar and artists desperately try to get a booth there because even with the expense of being in New York, you can make serious money there. It's also one of the best networking opportunities going.

But I have a huge soft spot for Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle. I first went in 2017 and returned in 2019. The con is in the middle of downtown Seattle which means you're surrounded by hotels and restaurants. The con is spread over six floors, with lots of family friendly programming. There's a huge number of artists on the west coast who never bother to go east. There are some celebrities, but the focus is on comics. The artist alley takes up the entire 6th floor and the show organizers are committed to bringing in diverse artists. So it's not just white dudes. Everybody is there. It's perhaps my favourite artist alley.

Funko's headquarters is also nearby, for good or ill. Depends on how you feel about those little figures.

So it broke my heart a bit to see ECCC have to be postponed on Friday. Seattle is in the middle of the COVID-19 outbreak. And as that's gotten worse, there was increased pressure on the show organizers, ReedPop, to cancel or delay the event. Artists were cancelling and vendors were pulling out. The event was to start this Thursday, so they cut it close.

It was the right call. If I was going this year instead of last year, I would have cancelled. ECCC is one of the four largest cons in North America. Take 100,000+ geeks flying in from around the world, throw them in a convention centre and, I say this love, some of my fellow geeks do not have the best hygiene habits, and it was a disaster waiting to happen. The last thing I needed was to bring that flu back to Nunavut.

Still, there's an element of fandom outraged at the cancellation as it's "only a flu". Honestly, the American reaction to this flu is going to lead to a lot of people dying needlessly. Some already have.

It's the right call, but still a hard one. Even with show organizers rescheduling and offering refunds (they can handle the hit. ReedPop is the largest con organizer in the business), a lot of artist and vendors are out money. I hope the con and all the artists bounce back quickly.

All of which is a long lead in to the piece above. If you don't recognize the character, don't worry about it.....this is her only appearance.

Cover of 2019 Monsters and Dames
One of the absolutely fun things ECCC does every year is create a book called Monsters and Dames. It's a limited edition (my copy from 2019 is 306 of 750) and proceeds from the book's sale go to a local children's hospital. Competition to get into the book is fierce. What I've done, and many other do, is take the book and walk around Artist Alley and get each page signed. There was about 90 pieces in the book, so it can take awhile.

But it's fun. You get to talk to artists you might ordinarily walk by. Sometimes I picked up a little something, but it's not expected. And a kind word about how much you liked their art is appreciated, I think.

In this case, Ryan was one of the last tables I got to. It was Saturday morning and I was desperately trying to finish getting my book signed because trying to do that during Saturday madness is a bad idea.

When I got to his table he was a nice guy. I was chatting with him when I noticed that the original piece of art that was reprinted in the book was on his table. The conversation went something like this.

What the page looks like coloured. Likely
scanned and done digitally.
Me: Oh cool, it's the piece from the book.
Ryan: Yeah, it's for sale if you're interested.
Me: (Preparing the "It's really nice but out of my budget" line, because by Saturday I'm normally deep into my reserves). How much are you asking?
Ryan: $60.
Me: (blinks). No. Seriously.
Ryan: Seriously. It's $60 if you want it.
Me: Sold. How the hell did no one get this before me?
Ryan: It's been there since Thursday. I'm just glad someone wanted it.

Pricing art, when you're starting out, is hard. You want people to buy your stuff, but you should also get value for the amount of work you put into it. Getting your art in the Monsters and Dames book is a big deal for ECCC. It's 11x17 so it's not small. He put a lot of hours into that piece, especially when you consider he probably coloured it as well. Later that evening, at the charity art auction, I saw other pieces from the book, not as nice as his if I'm being honest, go for north of $200.

So yeah, I got a great deal, which is hanging on my wall. I hope he did well the rest of the con...and I notice from his website he's supposed to have a new book coming out, which I'll have to give a look.

As for why I like it, well, I always have a soft spot for magicians in fishnets (see Zatanna). And I really do like the concept of the piece. Finally, Ryan's a solid artist. I think the monster is a touch murky and could have been better done, but I might be nitpicking.

Last Five
1. Killer Queen - Queen
2. 24 Frames (live) - Jason Isbell and the 40 Unit*
3. New York State of Mind - Billy Joel
4. Doing it- Charli XCX
5. Porchlight - Neko Case

Monday, March 02, 2020

Comic Art Collection 6: Red Sonja

Red Sonja by Stephanie Buscema, 9 x 12

A few things about this piece....

1. Cathy has only two rules about the art hanging on my wall. Nothing sexually explicit and nothing graphically violent. Those are pretty understandable and easy to follow rules and I abide by them. I mention them because this piece is about as close as I come to breaking that rule. I think I get away with it in this case (and Cathy has never mentioned having a problem with this piece) because it's cartoon-ish enough to not be a problem.

2. For years I never really cared for Red Sonja. Sword and sorcery was never really my thing. And Red Sonja was always too far into the T&A side of things. Plus, there is some truly horrific elements to her origin which just made her unpalatable for me to read.

Which goes to show that the right writer working on a character can do wonders. Gail Simone took over the book in 2013 (with artist Walter Geovani on interiors) and transformed the character, purging the really troubling elements of her origin, giving her much more agency. And for a woman who runs around in a chainmail bikini Simone did a reasonable enough job of explaining why. She also introduced a real delightful sense of humour to the series. Sonja's growing frustration in one story arc about not being able to get laid because she simply doesn't understand the fuss about needing a bath first is maybe crude, but it's hilarious crude. The entire run can be found in one collected hardcover.

By the way, if you're not following Simone on Twitter you are depriving yourself of one the most genuine sources of joy on social media. She is a remarkable presence.

3. So why did I get this piece? During Simone's run her publisher, Dynamite Comics did a lot of variant covers for each issue, often featuring some of the best women artists in the business. Covers like this.

Like most art, I don't know why I like it, I just do. So I tracked down the artist, Stephanie Buscema. She's not doing a lot of comic book work at the moment as far as I can tell, focusing on her own designs, many of them Hallowe'en themed. But at the time she was putting a few pieces up her site. The piece above wasn't one my first choice, but that got snapped up before I could ask about it. But I'm really happy with this one.

I also faced another challenge....Buscema was reluctant to ship to Canada. Which sounds silly, but shipping art from the United States to Canada can be a nuisance. The shipping and insurance costs can add an extra heft to the cost. And it can be a nuisance for artists to deal with FedEx or UPS. I know a couple that won't do it. However, she agreed to try this one time, mostly as an experiment to see how big a nuisance it would be.

It's been a few years since I bought this, but she said she wouldn't be doing it again after the above piece. I don't know if she's changed her mind recently, but I'm glad she made the exception for me.

Also, I notice the price of her original artwork has gone up significantly in recent years. Good for her. I'm glad I was able to get one beforehand, where it hangs on my wall.

Last Five
1. Just breathe - Pearl Jam*
2. Slow down Jo - Monsters of Folk
3. You let me down - Joel Plaskett
4. Human wheels - John Mellencamp
5. Don't forget me - Neil Diamond

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Comic Art Collection 5: Huntress

Huntress by Matthew Clark. Art 8 x 11.5 inches

Continuing with our Birds of Prey trend....

There's a tip I picked up during comic cons. When you start off a new sketchbook, find the best artist you can to do the first sketch in the book. Artists are always curious what else you have in your book and will likely flip through it. And also being competitive, they'll try and top it.

It's a good theory, although it doesn't always play out in practice. How much money you're giving them to draw it will likely play into how good the piece is too.

(It can also backfire. I had one artist last year in Seattle reluctant to follow a Michael Cho sketch I got. I heard a story about how someone managed to get the legendary Bernie Wrightson to do a sketch in his book, and no artist would draw in the book afterwards.)

When I went to my first con in 2008 I went with a cheap $20 sketchbook I got from Staples. At the end of that con I vowed I was going to have a snazzy new sketchbook. I found the perfect one during my trip to Italy in 2009. Fortunately, you don't have to go to Italy to buy one, you can get it online here

So off I go to NYCC in 2012 with my new sketchbook in hand, determined to get a great first sketch to christen the book.

The sketch above is not that sketch.

Don't get me wrong...that first sketch is perfectly lovely by an artist I like featuring a character I love. I was pretty happy with it. And then I wandered past Matthew Clark's table. I knew of his art, of course. He wasn't on my list of artists I was looking to get a sketch from. But he was a hell of a nice guy to talk to and the price he was quoting was more than reasonable. I'm not 100% sure why I asked for the Huntress. He's drawn the character before, so perhaps I simply liked what I saw.

The one catch is that he wanted to take my sketchbook back to his hotel so he could work on it from there because he wouldn't have time at the con that day. It was the first time someone asked me to do that, although it's not unheard of. I'm not sure I would do it now....I have way too many sketches in that book and if the artist had it stolen or something....well....

I said sure. The next morning I swung back to his table and this is what I got. I was absolutely floored. I have routinely thought about cutting the first sketch out of the book is this is the first one you see. Or that it's that good I would cut it out, frame it, and hang it on my wall. For how much I paid for it, it's absolutely amazing.

I also learned, regrettably, that while my new sketchbook is lovely, the paper they used is a bit on the thin side. His inks bled through several pages. Since then I've had to put a piece of cardboard behind the page. And no watercolours (although I've still done it). I could cut the pages out, but it would be noticeable. Artists tend to be twitchy about people who go to cons, get a sketch and then turn around and sell them at a mark-up on eBay. I don't want anyone thinking I do that.

But yeah, it's lovely work.

Finally, I got to see Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey (or whatever they're calling in now), when I was in Ottawa last week. No idea why that movie is "under-performing". It's a hell of a lot of fun, great action sequences and is just weird enough for my liking. It's the best movie based on DC characters since The Dark Knight in 2008. I'm also not really qualified to say what is or isn't feminist, but it certainly felt more empowering than Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel. I hope they get to do more...

Last Five
1. Dreamlike and on the rush - The New Pornographers
2. Afterglow - Garbage*
3. Don't deconstruct - Rilo Kiely
4. Right as rain (live) - Adele
5. Never miss a beat- Kaiser Chiefs

Monday, February 10, 2020

Comic Art Collection 4: Harley and Ivy

Birds of Prey opened this weekend, and it just so happens that I have artwork for a lot of the characters who appeared in the movie. So the next couple of weeks I'll run some of the pieces I have. But let's start with one of my favourites - Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy.

I love this piece. Cathy, who is at best ambivalent towards my art collection, really likes this piece as well. It's bright, vibrant, and playful. The characters themselves are now gay icons. They were once a villain sidekick and a cliched Batman seductress. Now they're someone who has dealt with an abusive relationship and a radical environmental activist who happen to be crazy for each other.

A lot of comic book fans would recognize the names of some of the artists I have, but most would probably be a little hard pressed to know the name Michelle Sciuto. To my knowledge she hasn't been hired by any of the major publishers and most of her work is commission based. I found her on Tumblr, when Tumblr was still a useful thing. Someone reposted her art, I liked it, started following her and then one day she put out a call letting people know she was doing commissions.

To this day, it's probably the best interaction I've had with an artist online. Often you ask for a piece (I want Batman". "Ok") and a few weeks/months/years (only once with the years) you get the piece. With Michelle it was a lovely back and forth. It went something like this:

Me: I'd like either a Harley and Ivy sketch or one with the Birds of Prey. Do you have a preference?

Michelle: Oh, I'd love to do Harley and Ivy.

Me: Cool. I'd like them in retro/pin-up style outfits (I'd yet to discover DC's Bombshells line, which has becomes a small obsession). Is that ok?

Michelle: No problem at all.

A few days later, I got digital scans. Rough pencils for three different outfits for each character, and three different poses for each. I was so wowed I asked if I could buy the rough drafts, but she included them at no charge. Here they are:

It was actually a pretty easy process. The other poses are fun, but the one with the Ivy and her hungry plant, and Harley and her hyenas was a clear winner. The outfits in lingerie and swimwear were fun, but I felt pushed the boundaries of one of Cathy's rule regarding art on my walls....nothing obviously sexual. Besides the dress and capri outfits look fantastic.

I believe the response when Michelle posted the final picture to her Tumblr the response was so strong she was flooded with requests for a print, which she ran for years. Which is cool; I don't deny artists any ways they can make money. And I still think she undercharged me for this.

You'll see more of Michelle's work in the coming months. But this is my first piece from her, and my favourite.

Last Five
1. Ruins (live) - First Aid Kit
2, Rose-coloured glasses - Blue Rodeo
3. Ice cream colours - Corinne Bailey Rae
4. One way street - Bruce Springsteen
5. Light on - Maggie Rogers*

Monday, February 03, 2020

Comic Art Collection 3 - Red #3, page 17

A page from the series Red, words by
Warren Ellis, art by Cully Hamner.

Some of you might recall the movie Red, with an all-star cast of older Hollywood stars. Bruce Willis might have been the lead, but anytime you want to give me a movie with Helen Mirren being fun and scary, I'm there for it. It's about assassins coming out of retirement when one of them is threatened. I quite like it. It's nothing earth-shattering, but it's fun and the sequel was good too. I'm sorry they didn't get to do a third one.

Perhaps a lesser know fact is that it's also based on a mini-series by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner. The two bear only a passing resemblance to one another. As I recall, Ellis wrote at the time that if they did a direct adaptation of their series, it would be about 20 minutes long.

Fair enough. The series is a a tightly packed thriller. Three issues and done. Retired assassin Paul Moses lives quietly, talking only to the woman who handles his pension checks, and tries very, very hard to forget the horrors he's committed. That's fine until a new CIA director sees his file, freaks out, and sends a team to take care of him. Moses decides to show the CIA why he was so scary.

It's a little different than the quirky hijinks and romance from the movie.

Ellis is one of my favourite writers. It's still bizarre to me that this is the thing of his that's been adapted. Not Global Frequency. Not Transmetropolitan. Not Planetary.

And Hamner, look, he's a really good artist, but he's a bloody great storyteller. This page is a masterclass in how to tell a story. You could take out the word balloons and still absolutely know what's going on here. Ellis, very wisely, stays out of the way for most of the book and just lets Hamner do his thing.

So far I've shown a sketch from my sketchbook, a commission, and this is a page of art I bought. Just to give an idea of the different things I have. Comic pages have become quite the hot thing in recent years. The right artists can get thousands. A cover or a splash page can also go for thousands. But there's still something about just a well crafted page of storytelling that works too, especially if you're on a budget. To reassure Cathy if she's reading this, thousands were not spent.

This page doesn't have a dramatic story, but there are a few amusing highlights. Hamner put this and a few other pages from Red for sale online through his broker Essential Sequential. I freaked out because I love the book and figured the art was long since gone. I managed to snag this page. But through a bit of good timing Hamner and the company were going to be at Emerald City Comic Con when I was going to be there. So I was able to get the page without paying shipping.

When I picked it up I spoke to Hamner and expressed amazement that there were any pages left.

"Oh yeah, I was cleaning out my closet and I found this bunch of pages buried back there so I just threw them online."


Fair enough, I guess. Not every page is worth something. I've been to shows where some comic artists have had pages stacked on their table like pamphlets. They can be big money. Or they can just be taking up space. It's why a lot of artists are moving to digital these days. It's faster for repetitive tasks and you can fix mistakes quickly. And if you're not a big name artist on a big name book, the speed you can work offsets any money you might make selling pages.

The only other thing to mention is that during the con, when I would pull out my portfolio to slip a page, poster or something, the artist would often ask to see what else I had. Without fail they stopped on this page.

"Just look at the skill in that," one artist said. "I can't believe you got a page of this."

"He found them when digging out his closet," I said.

The artist laughed. "Ok. That I can believe....."

Last Five
1. Neighbourhood #2 (Laika) - The Arcade Fire
2. Repetition - TV on the Radio
3. Vertigo - U2
4. Carly Ray - Mark Bragg
5. Drive my car - The Beatles*